What a Strange Week

What a strange week it was for Birdland. Entered the week on a high, Tillman was lights out to finish off the Tigers, to build a 2 game lead and tie the Jays for the top wild card spot. The O’s were 2 games back of the Red Sox and headed to Fenway. Then the roller coaster that began the week before came through the start and took off faster than last time. We all know what happened, Wade Miley making us wish we had Wade Wilson, Bundy struggling through some command issues but getting the run support Gausman never has. Then we were treated to the duelling pitchers that were Gausman and Porcello, with Porcello making the only big mistake by serving one up to Trumbo. For Gausman it was without a doubt his best outing of the season.

They rode high, 2-3 from the Sox in Fenway?! Headed home to face Tampa for 4? Could you have dreamed up a better scenario? Oh we Gallardo, Jiménez, and Miley starting? Well, who would’ve thought that Miley would have the best start of the series? The emotions we’re all over the place; up, down, and confused by not really knowing how to react to Wade Miley going 4 scoreless innings and being saddened by him leaving the game.

It was shocking, and having lost 2 of the first 3 I was concerned about what it would look like as Boston came to town on Monday. But let’s look back a little bit, Tampa just took 3 of 4 in Toronto. Toronto is not an easy place to win, it’s a loud stadium and the Jays are undeniably a good team. Tampa also has been noted are ‘free swingers’, much like the Orioles, living and dying off the long ball. The worrying part for the Orioles came when they couldn’t cash in Thursday night. Twice they had 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, and 1st and 3rd with one out down 1 in the bottom of the 9th. No runs. The frustration level was at the max.

A series split, combined with an implosion by the Blue Jays, and Yankees, and the Orioles are sitting in a good spot.

Starting with the Tigers series (which seems like so long ago), the common notion has been that every series was a “must win”. Well a win there, a series win in Boston, and a split with the Rays have the Orioles 3 back in the division. It may require a monumental feat to win the division. A series win this week still only gets the Orioles within 1. The Red Sox have been hot there’s no denying it (11-5 in September), they head to Tampa, and Yankee Stadium, before finishing off with the Blue Jays after the 4 game set here, there might not be anything the Orioles can do.

The roller coaster is sure to continue this week with Boston and then Arizona at OPACY.

Enjoying the Ride

Baseball is supposed to be fun. It’s the reason we come out to the ballpark, watch on TV, or play a game of our own. Over the last few years Orioles fans have had a lot to be excited about, the team has been competitive. They hit the ball out of the park better than any other team. The defense (the infield particularly) plays lights out making, plays that leave us gaping.

But it’s frustrating when they get blown out. And with the rotation the way it is, it happens far too frequently. Blowouts are not fun. It doesn’t matter what side of it you’re on, they don’t really keep you engaged in the game. It’s easy to lose interest as the game can’t be changed with a single swing of the bat, a diving grab, or a cutting pitch that leaves a batter frozen knowing he’s just been wrung up.

The excitement, win or lose, comes from those close competitive games. The pitching staff has gotten the team off on the wrong foot all season, the first inning being statistically the worst with 97 (0.65/game) runs against, accounting for 15% of the Orioles runs given up.

The thing to take out of this though is to enjoy the games that can contain our interest. The emotional ride is what keeps fans coming out. Blowouts, no matter what side of it you’re on don’t keep your interest. Birdland twitter was a fun place to be on Friday and Sunday. Saturday, had a lot of positivity, but wasn’t thoroughly engaging. Monday it was an awful place. The Wade Miley debacle compounded with the off field divisiveness that has begun to bleed in from the Kaepernick protest, made twitter a very negative place, and upon reflection, didn’t make me feel any better about seeing my team give up 6 runs in two innings.

Living in Canada, I don’t get to watch Orioles games with other Oriole friends (outside of my recently converted spouse who had no real allegiance). I enjoy watching with friends who are Jays fans, but they always ask ‘Why is Camden so empty?’ I can only imagine that part of it (outside of the weekday games) is the fear of going and witnessing what we saw last night. It wouldn’t be fun. I’ve been lucky to see 8 Oriole games this year in Houston, Toronto, and Baltimore. I’m 3-5, I was 0-5 before heading down to Baltimore for the sweep over Cleveland. The thing about the 8 games I saw, only one was a blowout. One game had the Orioles giving up 5 in the first, but ended up losing 10-9, with Pedro coming about 5 short of a grand slam that would have given them the lead. If all 5 games had been blowouts I probably would have still gone to Baltimore, but who can say. But I was always there for multiple games in a series. The combined score in those 8 games? 38-38. The games and series were entertaining, they kept me wanting more. It’s the totality of the games that have me making the trip again for the final two games in the Arizona series.

As sports fans we’re emotional people. We react to the moment, good or bad, and quite often without thinking. The ride for the last few years has been fun. And I’m looking forward to the next 19 games, but we need to keep things in perspective and enjoy the ride as maddening as it may make you. The one run game is the drug of the baseball fan, it keeps us on the edge of our seat or pacing in the house. Here’s hoping we all wear out a nice path in the carpet.

Birds in Beantown

Must win series…or something like that. Listen, yes this is a big series starting today but let’s not go crazy here. The Orioles are starting Wade Miley tonight, and will face Porcello in the 3rd game of this series. It’s pretty reasonable to think they may only take one game here and that’s ok.

Most projection models have the 2nd WC spot coming in at 88 wins; which means the O’s simply need to go 10-10 the rest of the way. With 7 of the 20 games against the Red Sox though, they are going to have to beat them at some point over the next few weeks.

The series has been an entertaining one to say the least with 112 runs crossing the plate in the 12 games so far this year. The Red Sox have hit Baltimore well this year, which isn’t all that surprising given the state of the pitching staff. Their OPS is almost .050 higher against the Birds (.878) than it is against all other teams. The power numbers have also been off (or rather over) the wall in this series with 40 home runs in the 12 games, this should lead to some exciting games.

Bundy should provide the Orioles with their best chance at a win, barring an outing like the last one in Tampa. Since moving to the rotation in mid-July Bundy hasn’t had back to back poor outings, his ERA as a starter is subpar at 4.31 but discounting the last start against Tampa, he put together a 3.49 ERA over 7 starts since the beginning of August while facing some decent clubs in Texas, Boston, the Nationals, and the Yankees twice during their surge.

Miley has obviously been the problem child of the rotation. Since coming to Baltimore at the beginning of August he’s put out a 7.14 ERA, a 1.72 WHIP and 8.69/3.10 K/BB per 9. Miley is yet to start a game against the Red Sox this year so maybe he’ll be able to surprise them.

As usual the bullpen is going to play a major factor here. Miley and Bundy both on the mound are averaging less than 5 2/3 per start since the beginning of August. Miley has no excuse (other than his poor performance) for not getting through 6. Bundy may have a pitch count or Buck may be a little worried about the wear and tear as he’s well over the number of innings projected for this year so it may not be all his fault. His velocity has been dropping as the season wears on.

Gausman goes up against Porcello on Wednesday in what could be the best matchup of the series. This will be a game to sit back and watch, enjoy, and probably burn a whole in the floor as you pace back and forth for 3 hours. Well that might be a statement for the next 3 weeks. Enjoy the ride.

On to Detroit

This may come as a shock, but it’s important to get out to leads early. The O’s play .792 baseball when taking a lead in to the 2nd inning. Detroit struggles mightily coming back in games. When tied of trailing after 4 the Tigers are playing .370 baseball.

Need to get out of the first. Tampa scored in the first inning in all three games at the graveyard that is The Trop. The rotation has been a problem, but of late hasn’t been as terrible over the course of the last month. On the whole the 1st inning has been the worst for the O’s giving up 15% of runs in the opening inning. The 6th has also been problematic, that being said the Orioles are playing .805 when leading or tied going in to the 6th.

On the Mound
Gausman, Jiménez, and Tillman (pending a throwing session Friday) are slated to go in this series. Gausman and Ubaldo are both coming off of great starts against the Yankees and Rays. Gausman in particular has been very good since the beginning of August with a single poor outing in San Francisco a long time ago now. Ubaldo fresh of his complete game win over the Rays, comes in and will have Zimmerman as a counterpart on Saturday. Zimmerman, who has had a couple of outings in Toledo, will be making his second start since the All-Star break. Tillman should be making the start Sunday after having some good rehab sessions for his shoulder problem. He’ll be opposite Verlander who’s had a resurgence this year.

On the Sticks and in the Field
Davis’ sore hand seems to be something he’s been dealing with all year and he’s been playing well recently at the plate and all season in the field. Manny, not much more needs to be said here, he’s been great all season and will be relied upon.

Calling Mr. Jones, the captain has had a bit of a down year, and the series against the Rays didn’t go well, 2 for 15 with 4 Ks in a series where the O’s scored 24 runs is a worry. Now’s when the team needs him to have a pick-me-up series. The leadoff man needs to get on base.

JJ Hardy has been a consistently been able to bring home 26% of all RISP this year despite struggling a bit at the plate. His stalwart defensive play is going to be relied upon as he makes up ¼ of a great defensive infield.
I expect we’ll see Kim back in the lineup for 1 or 2 games this weekend, but he’ll be battling for playing time with Pearce. Kim’s slowed down a bit batting .275 with a .340 OBP since the beginning of August (100 PA).

With the Tigers a single game back and Boston facing Toronto the Orioles have a great opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Tigers as well as catching or surpassing either of Boston (2GB) or Toronto (1GB).

Rays Series – Letting One Get Away

It’s the first inning, look back, way back, that’s right it’s another home run given up by the Orioles starting rotation in a stadium where the only fans are the ghosts of Rays fans passed.

The Orioles came in to the series 18-23 when trailing after the first and it looks like the pitching staff was determined to help the team turn that number around, giving up a home run in each of the first innings.

The first two games were really a tale of the first inning vs. the last 8. Ubaldo settled in and pitched a complete game (you can keep pinching yourself but it did happen) after giving up 3 on his first inning dinger to Logan Morrison. He really came in and settled down well. If he’s finding his groove it couldn’t come at a better time. Ubaldo talked about working on his mechanics and if he can find the form of his younger self the rotation looks good heading in to the stretch.

Gallardo tried to one-up Ubaldo but couldn’t quite get there. He gave up a solo shot in the first to Logan Forsythe, and then found his stuff giving up 5 hits in 5 innings for the win. The O’s beat up on Odorizzi for 7 runs with Machado hammering out his 3rd grand slam of the year.

Bundy not wanting to be left out gave up his first inning home run to Kiermaier. Bundy was brutal, giving up 5 in the 3.2 innings. The offence tried to keep the starter in the game, but after the Rays tied it up it was the end of his afternoon. The bullpen gave up 2 in the subsequent 4.1 innings. This has the feel of a game that really could come back to bite the team in the long run, though the Detroit series looming large this weekend may very well have been on peoples minds.

Barring an implosion like this again from Bundy it looks like one of Jiménez, Gallardo, or Miley will be headed to the bullpen. The question is who. My best guess says it ends up being Miley as Jiménez and Gallardo have had some decent outings recently. Heading in to Detroit for the weekend we’ll see Gausman, Miley, and what should be Tillman’s return to the rotation. We should be able to find out if Tillman does go Sunday who will be moving off the rotation as someone will be missing a start from one of the pitchers who give them a good chance to win every time out.

A series win in Detroit will go a long way to giving the team some breathing room in the playoff race. With Toronto and Boston facing each other this weekend it could help the O’s vault over one of the teams to the top WC spot.

A Note on RISP

The O’s dig the long ball, this is clear as we approach a 4th consecutive season where an Oriole leads in home runs. The argument lately has been that the Orioles are quite poor when not able to send one way back.

Using some data from Baseball Prospectus instead of looking at the batting average (BA) with runners in scoring position (RISP), a look at the number of runners batted in help paints a picture. It will shock no one that Machado, Trumbo, and Davis lead the way with the total number of RISP for the team this year with 161, 162, and 154 respectively. It may come as a bit of a shock that they’ve only been able to bat in 31, 40, and 31 of these runners. Now this examines all plate appearances (PA) and doesn’t account for walks or intentional walks where Machado has 43 and 9, Trumbo 46 and 1, and Davis has 76 and 3.

Jones leads the way for the Orioles batting in 31.0% of all RISP, Wieters comes in with 30.8% batted in at which point we see a significant drop to JJ Hardy at 26.2%. Unsurprisingly these three lead the way in batting in runners on third, Jones knocking in 55.8% of all runners on third.
The players at the other end of the spectrum aren’t really a surprise. We’ve all watched in anticipation of Caleb Joseph getting a chance for his first RBI of the season. Reimold (with 214 PA) has only brought home 10.9% of RISP, the injured rookie Joey Rickard (282 PA) brought home 18.2% of all RISP, and Hyun-soo Kim has only brought in 18.8% of RISP.

Kim Sits Again
Kim has been a bit of a thought for me in the Tampa series (as he sits again for game 3). He’s having a good season leading the team in BA .310 and OBP .386, sits 5th on the team with an OPS of .807 and an OPS+ of 114. In comparison to his teammates Kim has hit predominantly singles (75% of all hits) and has had a more difficult time against breaking balls since changing his focus to fastballs in the spring.
Buck’s had a statement on the pregame show before game 2 of the series when talking about Odorizzi. He talked about the pitchers record imbalance and how he’s far more effective at home. The climate controlled environment Buck said allows for increased grip and rotation on balls allowing cutting pitches to move more. This could be Buck’s thinking on why he’s sitting Kim. 

Is Reimold done?
It’s time to wonder if Reimold sees the plate again this season now that Bourn and Stubbs have arrived. Reimold has the lowest (outside of Joseph) percent of batted in RISP, only bringing 7.7% of runners on third across home plate. The next lowest here is Machado (wouldn’t have expected that) at 17.7% scoring.

Data courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference

Quick Thoughts – Ublado’s CG

So I was driving home during game one of the series against Tampa. With the spotty reception in rural Ontario, the game kept going in and out. First inning and I’m cursing in the car. Yesterday it was Miley, today it’s Ubaldo. Man that piece on Gausman to the Rescue really was right about only 3/5’s of the rotation being useful. But as I drove Ublado settled down much like the dog in the back of the car. Top of 3 and Kim gets to third, Jones on First. Reception gone. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Commercial break. I’m thinking that Pedro or Manny was able to get the sac fly at the very least. Well we all know how it turned out. I get reception back to hear Ubaldo go 1, 2,  3 in the 4th. I’m seeing a repeat of yesterday against the Yanks. Just can’t get the runs to come. Battling with the reception as we approach home I think of turning the game off and waiting it out. I’m glad I didn’t. The Orioles (outside of Davis’ home run to start things off got some people on base, and were finally able to cash in with the old RISP.

I’d be lying if I said that I thought Ubaldo would “save the season”, but in a weekend that was dominated by the rotation (outside of Miley, who wasn’t terrible outside of the first inning). I don’t wan to get my hopes up, but if Ubaldo can steady himself as an actual #4 starter in the rotation the Birds will have a shot to push Boston and Toronto to claim the division. Still 7 against Boston, so the fate of the season is very much in the hands of the Birds.

Two more left here, with Bundy on the mound Wednesday. It’s not inconceivable to get all 3, heading in to Detroit with Gausman and Tillman ready to go, and maybe O’Day back in the pen. The situation sets the Orioles up with a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Tigers while gaining or leaping over the Red Sox or Jays.

Gausman to the Rescue

In the beginning there was Tillman, the rest was chaos. It was a mix of young and old, that at their best looked like a staff that you could get by with, and at their worst was a staff that you wouldn’t trot out in Bowie.

Tillman was the undeniable ace coming in and pitched like all expected him too. The tradition of the long ball, and a great bullpen kept the Orioles in the playoff hunt.

Tillman went down in August after 3 starts, the last one managing only 2 innings. There were rumors of a shoulder problem and Tillman found himself on the DL as the Orioles found themselves trailing the Jays and Red Sox. The question became, could the staff that nobody wanted get the team to the playoffs.

Now the staff entering August was a bit different than the one that began the season. Bundy found himself in the rotation, alongside newly acquired lefty Wade Miley. Miley looks like he fit in with the chaotic pitching of Gallardo and Jiménez, while Bundy was a stud.

What about Gausman? Well he’s been pretty good if you look at the underlying numbers. Since the beginning of August Gausman has made 7 starts including last night and has  gone 5-2. He’s struck out 9 twice, got 8 against the Yankees last night, and posted 19 scoreless innings in his last 3 starts.

The only blemish in the last 7 starts was a poor outing in San Francisco. Against the Giants Gausman just couldn’t find the strike zone consistently, he lasted only 4 innings finding the plate 46% of the time.

Over the last month Gausman found the plate 62% of the time, given up 37 hits in 42 and 2/3 innings, walking only 14. Six of those coming in his poor outing against the Giants.

Gausman has been pitching like the ace of the staff for the last month. With Tillman slated to return against the Tigers on September 11th, and Bundy like he is, all of a sudden the rotation looks like something you might be proud of…well at least 3/5 of the rotation.

All data from baseball-reference.com

The Sky Hasn’t Fallen

August was turbulent to say the least, the rotation was up and down. The bullpen has run in to trouble since the All-Star break, and the bats have been a little quieter scoring less than 3 runs in the 23 of the last 46 games. If you haven’t been paying close attention, the Orioles are horrendous when scoring less than 3.

A case for optimism can be made as Bundy and Gausman have been pitching well lately. Miley had a decent outing against Toronto, but consistency has been his problem which explains why the Mariners, also in the playoff hunt, weren’t sad to see him go. Buck should be looking for 16-17 solid innings out of these 3, knowing that Bundy will probably be held to 5 regardless of how his night is going.

The hot and cold offence needs to find some consistency for the rest of the season as the team opens the 3 game set against the Yankees tonight. If the Orioles could get Trumbo to change one thing, it would be develop Davis’ eye. Davis known for having a good eye, may set a personal record for walks this season. His OPS and OPS+ are down from last year, but that can mostly be attributed to the awful post All-Star break slump he found himself in, which has rebounded a bit.

The defence will always give this team a chance to win, the question will be if the rotation and bats show up. It all starts tonight.

The Reinforcements?

In the hours before August and the MLB waiver deadline the Orioles added 3 players to help in the home stretch. Kyle Lobstein, Drew Stubbs, and the ancient one that is Michael Bourn.

In Lobstein the Orioles have acquired a young lefty who couldn’t crack the rotation in Pittsburgh. Lobstein’s 1.46 WHIP, and HR/9 of 0.8 are numbers that should look familiar in the Baltimore rotation, not the upgrade necessary. That being said, Lobstein should be able to spot fill if Buck decides that Bundy’s innings are getting to high. Let’s not forget that while Bundy has been spectacular of late, he’s already pitched more innings this year than the last three combined. The troubling numbers if Lobstein is to spot fill is the high BB:K ratio at 4:5, a BAbip against of .295, and a FIP of 4.67 which really can’t get much worse (let’s hope he doesn’t try). The upside for Lobstein is the 2 years of team control, if he can find himself a grove he could be a nice addition to an already strong bullpen.

Michael Bourn, who seems like he should be far older than 33, comes to Orioles from the horrible team in Arizona. Bryan Grosnick and Steve Givraz in their article  at Baseball Prospectus note that Bourn, as you could expect, has seen his speed drop off over the last few years. He’s got a neutral WAR (0.1) and is fielding at .965, which is actually lower than Trumbo who he’ll probably take some fielding time from.

Stubbs should be the player with the most immediate impact on the O’s postseason hopes. He’s a solid defender, who will be able to help solidify the outfield that has been far less effective than the stalwart infield. With Jones recovering from a hamstring injury and Reimold struggling at the plate since the walk-off pinch hit HR against the Indians, Stubbs should have the chance in Baltimore he wasn’t getting in Texas to get some time in the outfield. It probably means that Trumbo gets more time at DH, and Kim will be given a few more days off after being an almost every day player.

All stats sourced from Baseball-reference.com